Friday, September 29, 2006

Why I'm interested in allergies and corn avoidance

(Eleventy-One Things About Me #38: Allergies of one kind or another have had quite an effect on my life.)

This post is an intro to be linked from the News for Corn Avoiders blog, to explain to the readers there who I am and why I'm contributing to a blog about corn allergies.

Who is Purple_Kangaroo, why is she contributing to a corn avoiders blog, and what is her experience with allergies?


I am a homeschooling mom of three young children, married for 7 years to my first (and only) love, whom I call DH for Dear Husband. I have an extensive family history of food and environmental allergies, and grew up dealing with multiple allergies and intolerances of my own and of family members.

When I cook for my extended family, we have to avoid gluten (we have some celiac family members), dairy products, corn, soy, oats, all cooked fruits, pork, nightshades, grapes, sulfites, and food additives like MSG and preservatives, among many other things.

I've had a long line of unexplained and misdiagnosed illnesses from early childhood, and the clinical diagnoses that have seemed accurate include multiple allergies as well as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), back & neck problems (some structural, some from injuries), migraines (more like small seizures than like headaches), and exercise-induced asthma.

Some of the diagnoses I've received, such as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, have been wrong, and others (like the possible lyme disease and the theoretical allergies to my own growth hormones--a theory of a regular allopathic MD, not an alternative practitioner) were never confirmed.

Quite a few of those issues have been caused or exacerbated by allergies. As we've pinpointed and eliminated various allergens, several of the "incurable" or "unexplainable" health issues have greatly improved or even disappeared.

I recently underwent skin-prick testing for environmental allergens and tested very allergic to at least 17 out of 38 items, most significantly dust mites. Others included mold, cats, and various grass, weed and tree pollens.

I've noticed that a lot of the fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue symptoms I still suffer seem to be connected to environmental allergen exposure, particularly to dust mites. Currently our family is in a process of trying to make our home less friendly to dust mites.

My known food allergies include blackberry leaves (severe swelling on contact with the thorns, and throat swelling if ingested), avocado (symptoms similar to food poisoning), milk (eczema, digestive disturbances, joint pain, and possible other symptoms), as well as most antibiotics (giant hives) and a number of other medications. I did not have a positive skin test to milk or avocado, and was not tested for blackberry leaves, but multiple oral challenges have confirmed that those are problem foods for me.

However, it wasn't my own allergies that made me get involved in allergy research and support groups, and endeavors such as the no-corn blog.

Both of our first two children had mild allergies in early childhood, one to milk and one to soy. But it was when our third child, Baby E, was born that we began dealing with truly severe allergies.

From the time Baby E was a few weeks old, we realized that she was extremely sensitive to soy. If I consumed even a trace of a soy derivative, Baby E would begin crying while nursing at her next feeding. She would flail around and scream hysterically for hours, inconsolable and in obvious pain. She would develop diarrhea and an immediate diaper rash, and would sleep only fitfully for short times, often waking up or whimpering in her sleep even if she was held, and immediately waking screaming if she was put down. She was miserable during the day, and none of us got much sleep at night.

I ended up cutting out dairy products (even the butter and yogurt I could tolerate in small amounts), soy, wheat, nuts (I was already avoiding peanuts), fish and chocolate. Eventually (after 5 months without chocolate!) I was able to add everything but soy and other legumes back into my diet.

Eliminating soy and a few other foods helped, but still Baby E had quite a few fussy periods and didn't sleep much at all. The pediatrician kept saying it was teething or colic. I felt something else had to be going on.

Finally, after about a year of severe sleep deprivation, we took her to an allergist. The events that led us to pursue allergy testing were two incidents, only a day apart, where Baby E was exposed to trace amounts of foods.

The first day she touched her big sister's empty corn dog stick (containing soy and corn) to her mouth. The resulting reaction was similar to her reaction when exposed to soy through my milk--diarrhea, stomach pain, itching ears and mouth, diaper rash, etc. But this time instead of the usual 2 to 4 hours of crying, it went on with greater intensity for over 6 hours.

The next day Baby E got hold of an empty box of animal crackers (also containing corn and soy) and held it over her head, showering her body with crumbs. The reaction was similar to before, but this time also included a full-body rash and lasted for over 24 hours.

We were able to get a doctor's appointment the next day, and he referred us to an allergist.

As of this writing Baby E has skin-test confirmed allergies to corn, soy, red kidney beans and mold. She may also have an allergy or intolerance to other legumes, nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, etc), hazelnuts, and possibly other allergens as well.

Her soy sensitivity is severe enough that if I ingest soy lecithin or other "non-allergenic" soy derivatives, the amount in the breastmilk will cause a reaction. Corn derivatives like citric acid are a problem for her, also. She has had likely reactions to bread made with yeast grown on corn sugar, and confirmed reactions to goat milk yogurt made from goats that had consumed corn. A couple of weeks ago, she had an allergic reaction at church after touching the floor and then her mouth--there were probably cookie or bread crumbs on the floor.

As her mother, I've spent many hours researching allergies (particularly corn and soy allergies) and contacting manufacturers to find out which foods are safe for our family. I've been glad to use the writing, research, and speaking skills I learned in college and in other life experiences to my family's benefit in learning to deal with allergies.

It's been a lot of work figuring out how to shop and eat, but we're beginning to adjust to the lifestyle change. We've even managed to find a babysitter who has family members with corn and milk allergies, so understands the logistics of dealing with an allergic child.

Best of all, the first day we finally managed to be completely corn-free, Baby E slept through the night. Since then she's been a much happier and easier baby as long as she's not accidentally exposed to an allergen.

It took three weeks of intensive research and trying to avoid corn before we finally pinpointed most of the ingredients such as xanthan gum that were contaminating even products labeled as corn-free. It wasn't until we cut out all corn derivatives (including the supposedly non-allergenic processed ones) that we saw an improvement.

Interestingly enough, as we've adjusted the household's eating habits for Baby E's sake, the whole family has begun feeling better. With a diet excluding nearly all processed, bleached and refined foods, we're all seeing an improvement in our health.

It's a lot of work living allergen-free. Of all the allergens we've dealt with, corn is the most difficult to avoid--especially because of all the hidden and undeclared sources in food. We still end up with reactions occasionally from some food we thought was safe, or from cross-contamination. But most of the time Baby E feels great now.

It's hard, but the results are worth it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was a nice summary - it really showed me how much harder your life is dealing with allergies! A friend just said she would never wish allergies on anyone b/c she has similar conditions.

I was not exposed to that growing up... and have taken my health for granted. I was also raised on goats milk so I'm looking forward to getting that started again since I've heard it is better for health (we're buying a house in the mountains!). God bless you as you carry this cross!! Someday, we will probably know the easier way to allergy-free living.

Love, Colleen

1:47 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Wow PK... You are an awesome mom like I thought!!!!!!! To do all that for you and your family and specially Baby E and you never gave up... LOVELY!! That is awesome!

2:49 PM  
Blogger purple_kangaroo said...

Thanks, Colleen and Heather. I keep having people tell me they could never deal with a child having these types of issues, but it's not like I have a choice, LOL.

As Corrie Ten Boom says, God doesn't give you the ticket until you need to get on the train.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for confirming what I already believed to be true about myself.

I've been struggling with stomache and skin problems my whole life (27 years) and was misdiagnosed with Chrone's Disease, IBS, and such....I have probably had every test done in the book including the one for Celiac Sprue. However, things got much worse in the last year after I gave birth to my first child and quit nursing. As if in that very instant, my stomache instantly blew up like a balloon and I was stuck wondering how many more doctors I could stand seeing. So I began researching and came accross celiac sprue again...and thought, I would give the diet an honest chance just to make sure. Within a matter of days, I had part of my answer. I definetly felt better when I was off wheat, but like you said it is all those other things that have additives in that started bothering me and now I'm still searching for everything that I need to eliminate.

On top of that, I have had terrible skin conditions, especially on my hands that have only gotten worse in the last several years. I did have an allergy test done years ago where corn did show up, but i didn't pay much attention to it...until now. It's almost like my hands are more sensitive since I don't have the gluten in my system. And without eating gluten, I eat everything with Corn! So, for the last few days, I've managed to eat only the basics. Meat, potato, beans. My hands have almost cleared up. Then to put my theory to the test, I had a corn tortilla tonight, and it was only a couple hours later, my skin started itching and bothering me again.

Now I'm stuck looking for recipes and hope someone out there has some to share. Thanks and it is nice to know that there are others.

8:59 PM  
Blogger purple_kangaroo said...

Anonymous, if you e-mail me at the link in my profile I'll e-mail you a list of resources for corn allergy. Lots of resources are linked from the corn avoiders information blog--including several blogs with allergen-free recipes.

My own recipe blog can be found here: Restricted Gourmet.

11:02 PM  

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